While SUVs and CUVs dominate the U.S. automotive market, pickup trucks aren’t far behind. In fact, the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickup have been the three best-selling nameplates for more than a generation.
But the competition is heating up, not only with more imports targeting the truck market but also start-up electric vehicle manufacturers aiming to grab some of the action. Tesla made plenty of headlines last month with the debut of its Cybertruck, but Bollinger, Rivian and others want to get into production during the next several years.
And one of the ways all these players hope to grab your attention – and money – is by coming up with some surprising creative alternatives to what has traditionally been one of the most basic, albeit essential parts of a pickup: The tailgate.
At its most essential, a tailgate is supposed to stand upright to keep your cargo from falling out of the truck bed, then fold flat when you reach your destination. That’s pretty much how things worked for the better part of a century.
But, during the last couple years, things have started getting a lot more fancy. Today, you’ll find barn door-style tailgates and tailgates that can be folded down in sections. Other designs have built-in steps and, in several cases, audio systems that change the whole definition of “tailgate parties.”
And that’s just the beginning, apparently. Rivian has come up with a patent for a tailgate that would drop completely out of the way, while Tesla’s Cybertruck includes an electronically extendable ramp. There’s even a Hyundai design that would allow the tailgate to slide back to extend the vehicle’s cargo bed.
Here’s a look at some of the creative new tailgate designs:
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and HD models both offer aluminum tailgates. Cutting mass is a good thing when it comes to fuel economy, but there’s another reason for switching, the lighter tailgates easier to motorize. You can both or lower the optional power-operated doors using your key fob or a button inside the truck’s cab.
Ford’s F-150 and Super Duty models may have a relatively conventional-looking tailgate but both versions of the F-Series are offered with an optional, integrated tailgate step. Fold the tailgate down and you can then extend the spring-loaded step. There’s even a vertical grab handle. And to compensate for the extra 46 pounds of mass, the tailgate has a built-in lift assist.
GMC Sierra 1500 and HD pickups can be ordered with the optional MultiPro tailgate. The upper third can be operated independently and perform a variety of functions. With the main tailgate up, the upper portion folds over to provide a writing surface, for example.
With the tailgate lowered, it can turn into a step or, if need be, a bed extender. All told, GMC says there are six different ways to configure the MultiPro. The package also can be equipped with built-in stereo speakers for a great tailgate party.
Honda Ridgeline shows that manufacturers are getting creative when it comes to midsize pickups, too. The crossover-based Honda features a Dual-Action tailgate that can either drop down like a conventional design, or swing out of the way, instead, thanks to hinges on the driver’s side. That method makes it easy to access Ridgeline’s hidden trunk below the load floor.
Hyundai Santa Cruz is finally a go for production, though the Korean carmaker has yet to reveal how the retail version will differ from the widely hailed concept pickup. One of the features that won the prototype raves was its extendable bed, the tailgate able to slide rearward to add significant additional cargo space. We may not know more for a while, the production Santa Cruz not scheduled until 2022.
The Ram 1500 is offered with a $995 option called the Multifunction tailgate. It’s similar to the barn doors found on some vans, though here with a 60/40 split. Using hinges on each side, they can swing out nearly 90 degrees for easy access to the cargo bed. If you prefer, the two parts lock together and can be lowered like a conventional tailgate, and are strong enough to handle 2,000 pounds.
Rivian R1T is the pickup the Detroit-based start-up plans to put into production next year. A patent application shows a tailgate that can be operated in multiple positions, including the ability to drop a full 180 degrees so you don’t have to reach over it to get at your cargo. The patent design suggests the system will be powered, like Chevy’s tailgate, and that there will be rings available to use as steps. Rivian officials have not confirmed whether the design actually will go into production on the R1T, however.
Tesla Cybertruck integrates a number of creative concepts, including a roll-up tonneau cover over the bed, as well as a multifunction tailgate. The latter can fold down a bit more than the traditional 90 degrees, for one thing, but what’s most significant is that it has two additional sections that extend out from the tailgate to form a ramp that can be used to easily roll-off cargo, such as an ATV or a motorcycle.
Somewhat surprisingly, neither Nissan nor Toyota have come up with any creative approaches to the tailgates on their own full-size pickups. And the Ridgeline is the only midsize model to offer an alternative to the standard, 90-degree fold-down design. Considering the way manufacturers are focusing on tailgate technology, however, it’s hard to imagine we won’t see even more creative ideas in the near future.